In The Beginning

It is a lovely day in May 1956 when we crest the hill and draw the wide winged Mercury to a stop in front of the big white farm house. Months have gone into the preparation for this move. All the wallpaper inside the 13 rambling rooms have been cleaned with a sponge like material; the one little wood stove in the kitchen has been polished and cleaned.  I am seventeen years old and a bride of seven months.

My eyes take in the wide open fields with the stone walls separating them like little square boxes. Chipmunks are scurrying on them, looking alarmed at the thought of visitors after months of solitude.  We’ve bought the house because it was a good buy; and the fact that over the years it was owned by my husband’s family.

What a glorious feeling to no longer share three rooms with five other people! This space was all mine and I looked down in the valley to Indian Pond where I had spent many a summer in my childhood.

It had been a long seven months living with my husband’s parents. His mother, though she hid it well, was shell shocked to think he had married a seventeen year old tomboy from Greenwood Center.  I had graduated high school and did what most “girls” did in the Fifties: get a job and/or marry and have a family. I got the job sorting rosewood at Ekco Products at .75 an hour. I had earned two scholarships during my school years and passed a Federal Civil Service test in Rumford to become a secretary. I passed with flying colors but was too young to be hired for the job. (Incidentally, on my 18th birthday, a letter came to my parents’ home in my maiden name from the Dept of the Navy wanting me to work in the Pentagon) Ah , the road not taken, but I was reveling in my own little country estate at the time and not a thought was given that I had missed a grand opportunity.

Mother-in-law was a treasure throughout the winter. As soon as I got home from work, we had our little sessions where she was determined to make a young lady out of me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my mother had seventeen years and failed, but this woman was insistent. I sat there by the hour as she instructed me on crocheting edgings around hankies; later an embroidery piece with a deer head on each end became my Dad’s Christmas present. She taught me how to cook a decent meal and if she was disappointed in her son’s choice, one would never have known.

But I digress. I mentioned the little cook stove in the kitchen. In the cellar resided a huge wood/coal furnace which would come in handy during a Maine winter. ( or so I thought…) In the corner was a piano which the former owners left behind and that, in my mind, was about as important as any piece of furniture we could buy.

Out in back was a little red shed like structure, which I believe was a hen house and on that May morning I had already made up my mind that there would never be a hen or rooster or any winged creature wandering around MY wonderful estate. It was big enough to hold a couple cows had I really measured it correctly.

Up on the side hill was a beautiful plum tree and apple trees scattered here and there. Visions of jams and jellies formed in my mind and I could see myself standing in front of my cupboard delighting in the gleaming reds of all my accomplishments.

Gardens!  We would have gardens and by the dawn’s early light, I would be out hoeing and weeding while the dew was still on the ground. Later in the year, I would be canning and freezing all that green beautiful produce fresh from Mother Earth.

Remember, I was seventeen and not quite right in the mind. I forgot I still had a day job at .75 cents an hour and would not be standing in the kitchen with a frilly apron on all day. Instead I would be wearing gloves and handling little pieces of rosewood, straight from Brazil that my Dad would be sawing and sending over the wall that separated us at the mill.

But this is May, 1956 and looking around at the old lilac bush, now blossomed and the apple blossoms ready to appear, nothing seemed impossible.

If one cannot dream, then what good is life?

 

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Remembering Grass

Enough already. Yes, the first snowfall covers the ugliness of the rotted, fallen leaves of autumn, but who needs another four or five feet of snow to convince us that it is, indeed, winter. Yes, yes, I am pleased for those in the snow industry…skiing, snowboarding, risking one’s life etc, but for the person who left those sports years ago, there is just so much one can do when the snow reaches hip level. Yes, the trees are beautiful..a photographer’s dream world..and then the snow falls, hits power lines and you sit in the dark with one flickering candle or Aunt Bessie’s last kerosene lamp and wonder if spring will ever come.

I try to remember what grass really looks like..whether brown or green, it tells me there is earth somewhere below the drifts. This thought took me back to my days on the Maine farm with all its adventures ..in all seasons.

One morning, late fall, the four ( or fab four as I liked to call them) marched down the hill, lunch boxes in hands to catch the school bus.  I stood by the now shriveled lilac bush, waving a fond farewell and turned to go back into the farm to do the morning chores. Ah, but the morning was crisp and air felt so nice. Did I really want to go back into that kitchen, finish the dishes and all the other mundane chores that went with being a farm wife?

I saw, out of the corner of one eye, the Rupp mini bike standing there…much like a horse just waiting to be exercised…it even looked bored.  Should I? Why not? On went the helmet and I climbed aboard. This was not the first time I had straddled ole Paint and taken a ride, but this was the first time…so early in the morning..hmm, well, why not.

I started up the side of the pasture hill at a slow pace until I thought I had my wits about me. Chipmunks were already on the stone wall and some dropped their acorns as I roared past..yes, I said roared because that pasture hill is steep and I wanted to make it to the top. Cows rolled their dull, clueless eyes and meandered to the other side of the field. ( You may get the sense that I don’t like cows. You would be correct.) Finally I rounded the last curve and stopped to survey the scene below. Indian Pond in the morning light was beautiful and I just stood there, breathing in what I considered paradise …a morning all my own.

I should have stopped there. But the field beckoned to me and I thought I should take a short spin to see what might be around the wall . Again ole Paint and I were on our way ..however, there was one oversight on my part. The grass was still wet from last night’s dew. I rounded the corner, gunned that little Rupp and the back tire executed a rhumba step. Down the bike went, and needless to say I was pitched forward. It is a humbling experience to find oneself on one’s stomach staring into a clump of white birch trees., but I found out what was around the corner of the wall. There was a few spots of intense burning as scratches were revealed when I finally stumbled to my feet. I picked up ole Paint, straddled her and decided perhaps the morning ride should be over. It wasn’t that I hurt that much, but you know, the morning chores awaited.

Down the pasture hill I rode, slower than the upward climb, waved to the chipmunks, still in awe after seeing the mistress of the farm out so early  in the morning and came to rest by the garage.

Even with the scratches, it just felt good to be out in the autumn air so early in the day. I put down the guard and set ole Paint up to ready itself for the next outing. She tipped just enough to catch my bare leg and again I was branded with the big round muffler or tail pipe or whatever it was called.

It got me every time and every time I forgot it was going to do its last dip..its way of thanking me for the exercise. I had that round brand on my leg for about a year…and I still maintain I was the first person on Rowe Hill to have a tattoo.

Now you know what people my age do when the snow comes and never stops. We just put our minds in reverse and think grass, grass..eventually we will see grass. Until then, we can amuse ourselves by remembering some of the outlandish things we did in the past…but boy it was fun!

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My Journey to Eighty

I never thought of about celebrating my 80th year..I didn’t think I would ever find it , in those days of running the fields of Maine, flying kites with my four children…there was no time to be thinking that far in the future…

But here I am. I like to think I learned a few things along the way..and I know I’ve forgotten  a few as well.

Surround yourself with positive people; there’s enough negativity in the world without your gathering up more.

Forgive when you think you cannot; the weight comes off your shoulders.

Listen. It’s far more important than talking and you’ll learn more than you thought possible.

Honor and respect the elderly. You don’t think you’ll ever be that age, but believe me, you will be.

You will age but be grateful; some never get the opportunity.

Never discuss politics or religion. You will never win the argument. Save your breath.

Walking through grief is like pulling your wellingtons out of a swamp. Every step is like a weight that pulls you down; in time, there will be a rock or a little solid piece of land that makes the walk a bit easier.

Have friends who come to see you and don’t care that your house might be a mess.

Have a grumpy day occasionally without guilt. No one can be a cheerful cherub all the time.

Now there are just a few little suggestions and to write everything that I’ve learned on this journey would fill a book.  The things I’ve forgotten would probably fill two.

So much for my thoughts on this Monday morning!

Leaving School Behind

( This is a special piece, invited by my editor, to give you a sneak peak at my upcoming book….)

The music starts; Pomp and Circumstance echoes through the Woodstock High school  gymnasium and I stand, white gown and cap, shaking in my white shoes. I glance to my left and the boys are lined , ready to make the march down the aisle, which looks as long as a highway at this point. I catch my brother’s eye, Rex decked out in his blue gown and cap and wonder if he is thinking of the four years we have just completed and more so, if he is as nervous as I am.

There are ten of us graduating and we have become close over the years.  How can I forget our class trip to New York City? All of us piled on a subway ( none of us had seen one before) for a trip to the Bronx Zoo; half of us managed to get off at the stop and the rest kept traveling, to arrive at the Zoo an hour later. I never knew how they managed the loop..probably afraid to ask. Sitting in the balcony at the old Madison Square Garden watching the trapeze artists from Ringling Brothers swaying in front of us. Oooh, but the side shows downstairs made me sick when I saw a lady with a huge snake. Up into the balcony I dashed in a hurry.

We sat in the balcony of the theater and watched the Tonight Show with Steve Allen as host and wandered down the street at midnight to our hotel with no fear. But the highlight was standing in the rain for two hours to see Perry Como with his 15 minute television show. I am still in shock that I had a front row seat and he smiled..yes he did..actually smiled at me and asked me if I were nervous because he wasn’t. What a sweet man! Never mind that I have a scrapbook full of pictures of him at home!!

Oh , those are such good memories. Hmm, there are a few I would rather forget. I love Mrs. Herrick, our English teacher, Mrs. Crockett, our commercial teacher, and of course Mr. Lago, our principal. We all get along fine, but there was one critical moment in my four years that Mrs. Crockett and I crossed swords. One half of the year we studied Commercial Law; the other half was ..eeek..Math. If there is one subject I hate, it is Math and all its figures. Well, this day there were problems; is there anything worse than Math problems? I sighed, chewed my pencil, dawdled until Mrs. Crockett asked me if I was going to solve it. I told her that I could not. She maintained that I could if I put my mind to it.. well, suffice it to say, I lost all patience, slammed my book shut ( some say I threw it..not true, I don’t think) and within a moment’s notice, I was sitting in the principal’s office.

Mr. Lago looked at me and said, “Did your sense of humor get you in here again?” where upon Mrs. Crockett laid out the details in fine fashion. I was no longer a member of the Math class and I would not be getting a Commercial diploma, which I think would be helpful in getting a secretarial position. Again, still smarting over being thrown out of class, I told her I did not care what kind of diploma I received as long as I had one in my hand. I never knew when to keep quiet and it took Mrs. Crockett a few seconds to recover as she had never seen me in such a state before. I know now that I was wrong and being disrespectful. I was one of her best pupils in typing and shorthand and she had great hopes for me and here I was, so dumb I could not figure out a math problem.  This was not one of my good memories.

I will not be playing softball and basketball anymore. I won’t be finding Rex to get a  nickle for a bag of potato chips to go with my tuna fish sandwich at noon.  What am I to expect out there in the world? I won’t be seeing Mrs. Herrick any more and having a toga party at her little house down in the village.

OK, the music is going; I am the tallest so will be the last girl in the line and the boys will intermix as we go down the aisle. I am so happy because my Dad is sitting near the front. Earlier this evening, he came into the kitchen with his best brown suit on and Ma said, “Where are you going?” He cocked an eye and said, “to see Muff and Rex graduate”. Well Ma almost keeled over, but there he is.

We’ve gone through the whole ceremony and no one has passed out from fright, though I thought I might when giving a long, boring speech. Even Dad made it through that without leaving.

We have all been handed our diplomas, all ten of us, switched our tassels to the other side and are ready to leave the stage.

It has been a long four years..our class numbers dwindled over the years, but the fun and companionship lived on. I am going to miss climbing those long steps into our little high school.

Those were good days. How fortunate we were to be students in the Fifties!

 

 

 

Stranger in the Center

threeofusIn today’s world, parents are always warning their children about strangers and what could happen if they do not choose wisely. Well, you know, this is nothing new..not at all!

Ma told us to always look for any strange men we might see walking down the “flat” and to come to the house if we ever saw anyone suspicious. Well, we could see a half mile up the “flat” and knew everyone who lived in the Center, so if someone different came wandering down that piece of road, we would know for sure.

They were called “tramps” and Ma explained that most of them were not bad; just down on their luck. If one came to Gram Martin’s house, she might give them a sandwich or a little bowl of soup, but they had to sit outside to eat it. She never let them in the house. Well, no one ever came to our house as it was far back from the road and probably they could tell we had a hard job feeding ourselves!  Ma said if a tramp found a house that gave some food, they would leave a mark for the next one to see so that he could be fed, as well.  Well, I spent a good afternoon looking for marks around our house and came up empty handed.

But then it happened!  One hot Saturday afternoon, Rex and I were rolling our tires on the narrow tarred road and stopped to catch our breath at our mailbox.  I looked up the road and in the distance, there was a man coming down the road! He was too far off for me to see his face, but he was dressed in dark clothing.  Rex and I stared and both agreed we did not know who he was..certainly no one who lived near us!

We did just what Ma had told us to do…we took off running for the house and told her what we had seen..a strange man coming down the road. Well, she told us to stay right in the kitchen with her and we’d watch to see him as he passed by.

Time seemed to stand still and of course, with my vivid imagination, had him almost knocking on our door for a sandwich.  After a bit, we saw him by our mailbox and I bet Gram Martin had seen him now! Oh, No!!  He was turning in our driveway and coming to our house!  This had never happened before. Ma said, Oh my Lord and I guess she was praying that she had something to offer him while he sat on our steps.

He walked ever so slowly up our driveway and soon close enough so we could see his face. Ma started laughing and we thought she was hysterical…then she said, ” that’s not a tramp, that’s your Uncle Pete!”  Well, if we didn’t let out a sigh of relief.

Rex and I had no way of knowing as Uncle Pete lived and worked in Portland. He had come home for the weekend and decided to walk the three miles to see Ma.

We all had a good laugh afterwards, but Ma still insisted that we continue to watch out for strangers and to run to the house should we see one. 

Some things change; other things remain the same…

Photo: Roland, chubby me, Rex

My Incredible,Unpredictable Friend

Meet Sivvie Lio.  I can’t tell you how many years I’ve known her or even when I first met her. I do know she is just who I needed to help me through this long month of January, with its ups and downs.

Sivvie is a package of dynamite packed into a pint sized human being. Her head is so packed with knowledge that one would think it would weigh down the rest of her body.

But let me tell you about yesterday. Sivvie said she might be in the area and stop in to see me. Yes!!! Company!!  Now, not only has Sivvie been a pharmacist for fifty years; she also owns The Vermont Herbal General Store in West Rutland, Vt. You just know that any visit with Sivvie will bring not only great conversation, but maybe a sample or two of her many creams, ointments, sprays..you name it.  

The woman knows her herbs! Of course, she knew my RA condition and so brought along a sample of her Derma Healer pain lotion. Slapped a bit of that on the back of my aching hands and within a few minutes, the pain had diminished so it no longer bothered me.

Now Sivvie and I are both Pisces; both Legends of February as Facebook likes to call us. When we start talking, we don’t stop. She is a Master of Reiki and Lord only knows what else. The woman is phenomenal and if you listen, you can learn about almost any plant and what it does for you.

Yesterday …well, maybe it was because it was a dreary day or maybe two February people get bored easily. She mentioned Holy Fire Reiki and I just had to know about it. So,naturally, she said she would even demonstrate if I wanted to try it ( and was probably wondering if I could sit still that long). 

Since this was unplanned , we made do with what was on hand. I wheeled the computer chair into the middle of the floor. Sivvie turned on some very soft,( to my ears, unusual) music.  Her hands touched my shoulders ( where I am bothered the most with RA) and it felt as though her hands were burning through my shirt into my skin. Then there was a soft touch to the forehead and slowly she placed her hands on my biceps, wrists , hands and especially my thumbs. She placed her hands..one on my shoulder and one on my knee ..each side…where there in inflammation. Her hands were very , very warm.  I could feel myself relaxing and secretly hoping I wouldn’t nod off and fall out of the chair. ( Always the worrier).

I have no idea how long the demonstration lasted. I do know that I felt better all over and for the rest of the day had no pain comparable to what I had been feeling for months. Hey, there has to be something to this, I said to Sivvie. ( I think she rolled her eyes). She explained that the music was synced to some of the moves she had made, which was interesting.

When Sivvie comes to visit, I never know what will happen…that is the great part.  Her herbal store is located at 518 Main St in West Rutland , VT. and anyone stopping in , will be mesmerized by the products she makes up herself. Tell her what is wrong and she , I bet, can give you something that will help.

Her website is http://www.vermontherbal.com but she apologizes for not keeping it up to date as she is so busy between her pharmacy job and the store, she can’t find the time, but is trying. She balances a world between pharmaceuticals and Alternative and Holistic Health Science.  She also has a Facebook page. Just type in her name or the Vermont Herbal Store and you got it!

I call her the “mad scientist” and she laughs. There are always skeptics about alternative ways to health and no, I am not going to stop seeing my cardiologist and rheumatologist, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep an open mind and see how many plants, vegetation of any kind could aid in keeping us healthy.

If you’re ever in the West Rutland area, and really it is worth the trip just to see the Herbal Store, stop in. You might want to call ahead (802-438-2766) to get her hours, but you won’t regret it.

There, that is my January adventure…so far… unless Sivvie comes for another visit. Had to let you know that I received the Holy Fire Reiki and lived to tell about it. 

Hmm..if I have another, you will be the first to know.

 

January Thaw circa 1950

dogI am 14 years old and sick of Winter. I’ve been cold since last October and enough already. We are out for winter vacation and time is hanging heavy on my hands.  Yesterday, the sun came out and seemed a bit warmer and Dad said it was slowly getting higher in the sky. Well, I wish it was July high. Icicles are melting off the porch roof and the heavy snow from last week is falling with thuds from the pine trees by the front yard.

I would like to go skating on Twitchell Pond, but usually wait til evening when we can burn the cast-off tires that the neighbors give us.  They don’t mind the awful smell as they burn, as long as they can get rid of something they don’t need.  It isn’t much fun skating alone, and mind you, I am not a good skater. My ankles want to go in one direction and the rest of my body in another.  I grab the skates that my brother, Tink, gave me for Christmas and start for the pond. He said they were second hand skates but they fit me and are white and look sharp. Makes me look as if I know what I am doing even with the flopped over ankles.

I leave my old boots on the pond shore and the skates are firmly planted ( I hope..). I don’t like the sound of the ice …it seems to be making strange noises and I have always thought of cars and people going through. Dad has always stressed to us not to get near the opening of brooks leading into the pond, because of what he calls “air holes”. Seems to me that by now everything should be frozen solid..it is the middle of January and we’ve been living like Eskimos for months. Well, the strange noises don’t help my enthusiasm. Who would be home that might skate with me? There are no girls in the neighborhood, so I am thinking Hank Bowers might be at home.

He lives down the road a bit, so if I skate in that direction, he might see me and come out and at least we can kill some time, falling over each other as we attempt to stay upright.  I start the skate, going by Wagner’s camp, sitting there, looking pretty lonely this time of year and round the corner where I sit in the summer, with my fish pole and thinking cap. I am about to start the straight away when I hear a noise behind me and there is Keno, our Norwegian husky, trying to keep up with her paws in all directions.

Keno is a wonderful guard dog and will not let anyone near my brothers and me if she senses any danger. I wonder if she thinks I am going to go through the ice; whatever she thinks, she is not going to leave me. We have had her since she was a puppy, when my Dad surprised Curt with her as a Christmas gift. I slow down and ask her what she thinks she is doing, way out here on the ice with me. Her tail wags and she snuggles up to my leg as I stop.  I give her a pat and then skate slowly as Hank’s house comes into view.  I circle around so Hank can see me if he wants to come out.

The sun is warm and yet no Hank. Knowing boys as I do, he is probably propped up with a comic book or watching television. Keno and I linger awhile and then decide that boys are not worth that much time and start our skate home.  So far the noises from the ice have not let us into the cold briny deep and we are safe…I don’t know why I do not feel as safe in the day time as I do at night. Maybe it is because there are more of us and if I fell through, someone would try and fish me out.

We are back at the starting point and I sit on the cold bank and get the skates off. That was a waste of time, I think to myself. Keno sits beside me and I am sure she echos my thoughts. My legs are tired, so hers must be as well. The sun sure feels good on my face though and there is no nasty wind blowing from Moose Cove to set the chills going.

We climb the bank to head back to the little house when I hear a voice. “Sandra, have you got a minute?” My Gram Martin has her porch window open a crack and is calling. Slinging the skates over my shoulder, Keno and I walk up the driveway hill to see what she needs. Ha!  Gram doesn’t need anything really…she has been cooking and hands me a fat cookie and a little mug of cocoa. ..made with real milk, not the evaporated kind!  I can smell soup on her cook stove and she has a bone saved for Keno, who has waited patiently outside the front door.

January isn’t bad when you have a nice thaw to warm the bones and a Gram who comes to the rescue when she wants nothing but company!! Grams get lonesome, too!